Who pays for an embedded journalist's medical bills?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 31 2006 6:17 PM

Who's Going To Pay for Bob Woodruff's Medical Care?

Do military hospitals take insurance?

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Don't worry. He's covered. Click image to expand.
Don't worry. He's covered

ABC's Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, who were injured Sunday in an attack on a military convoy near Baghdad, returned to the United States on Tuesday. The embedded journalists were first airlifted to a military hospital in Germany, then sent on to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Who's going to pay for all their medical care?

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber (@danengber) is a columnist for Slate. Send him an email at danengber@yahoo.com.

Probably their insurance companies. As a matter of course, embedded journalists sign release forms that—in this (PDF) version, at least—make it very clear that the government isn't responsible for the cost of any medical care in the field: "Persons receiving government medical or dental care who are not otherwise eligible to receive such care shall be obligated to reimburse the government." (The military also offered to supply the first embedded reporters with vaccinations against smallpox and anthrax—as long as they were willing to pay for them.)

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The Department of Defense says that Woodruff's and Vogt's care will be charged to their insurance. Large military hospitals—or Military Treatment Facilities—generally accept payment via the government's health plan, called TRICARE. When a civilian without TRICARE coverage ends up in an MTF, he can arrange to pay his bills with his own insurance plan.

ABC News claims that the network will take care of the medical bills. They wouldn't say, though, whether they'll pay Woodruff's and Vogt's medical expenses directly, or if they'll let the insurance cover it. ABC also won't say if these on-the-job injuries would be covered under workman's comp. They do say that no matter what happens, taxpayers won't foot the bill.

That said, it's not clear how many of the medical expenses will actually get billed. Not all military hospitals in the field have the time or resources to track individual patients. The San Diego Union-Tribune's James Crawley, an embedded journalist who fell ill four days after the fall of Baghdad, was evacuated from a surgical unit to a Navy hospital, and then to an Army medical center in Kuwait. Though he spent several days under the care of military doctors, Crawley says he was never asked to pay a dime. Larger hospitals—like the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where Woodruff and Vogt arrived on Monday—do have the means to track and charge civilian patients. 

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Explainer thanks Terry Jones of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and Jeffrey Schneider of ABC News.